A spooky image of a mushroom, a beached orca taking its final breaths, and a pair of Nubian ibex battling on a clifftop are among the winning images of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023 competition.
This year’s grand title was awarded to French underwater photographer and marine biologist Laurent Ballesta, for a luminescent image of a horseshoe crab on the seafloor, with three golden trevally fish swimming above its back. It’s the second time Ballesta has won the honor: in 2021, his shot of camouflage groupers in a milky cloud of eggs and sperm took home the top prize.
“To see a horseshoe crab so vibrantly alive in its natural habitat, in such a hauntingly beautiful way, was astonishing,” said chair of the jury and editor Kathy Moran in a statement.
The species is older than dinosaurs, with the earliest fossil forms dating back 475 million years, but it is now threatened by habitat destruction and overfishing. In many parts of the world, horseshoe crabs continue to be harvested for their blue blood, which is used in the development of vaccines.
Other winning photographs depict threats to wildlife from human activity, such as a strip of deforested land in Mexico making way for a new tourist railway line, and an aerial view of the heavily polluted Ciliwung river winding through Indonesia’s capital Jakarta.
In some cases, wildlife is adapting to a human environment, as shown in a photograph of two barn owls looking out from a window of an abandoned roadside building. Carmel Bechler, a 17-year-old Israeli photographer, was crowned Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for the image, receiving praise for his use of natural light and long exposure times to capture the passing traffic.
“I hope to share with my photography that the beauty of the natural world is all around us, even in places where we least expect it to be, we just need to open our eyes and our minds,” said Bechler.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year, in its 59th year, is produced by the Natural History Museum of London. Winners were selected from nearly 50,000 entries from 95 countries and announced at an awards ceremony on Tuesday. By showcasing the diversity of life on Earth, the competition hopes to inspire people to care and advocate for the natural world.
The images will be exhibited from Friday at the museum, before touring internationally. This year, the exhibition will also feature videos showing the impact of wildlife photography and promoting actions visitors can take to protect the planet.
“Whilst inspiring absolute awe and wonder, this year’s winning images present compelling evidence of our impact on nature – both positive and negative,” said Doug Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum, in a statement.
“Global promises must shift to action to turn the tide on nature’s decline,” he added.